Clarifications on North Avenue

Opinion: Columns

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By Judith Alexander

Thank you very much for your excellent coverage of the village's walking tour of North Avenue, as well as your editorial in support of a long-term plan for its economic development.

Revitalization efforts are already complex because many entities are involved: Chicago and Oak Park, the state of Illinois (North Avenue is a state highway), residents organizations (North Avenue Zoning and Development Advisory Committee [NAZDAC] with committee members from Chicago and Oak Park), North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park (NANA-OP), and the North Avenue Business Association (NABA). There also will be several related studies.

Because all this is confusing, let's clarify a few items in Tim Inklebarger's article [A walk along North Ave., News, June 25] and your editorial [Fixing North Avenue, Our Views, Viewpoints, June 25]:

The village of Oak Park organized the walk. Trustee Adam Salzman has been instrumental in bringing North Avenue to the attention of the board and village staff. It is my understanding that the village board has made North Avenue a priority for 2015.

Though work on the streetscape was originally supposed to begin at Austin and move west to Harlem, the opposite occurred. Only the western third — Harlem to Oak Park avenues — was completed. But the eastern third — Ridgeland to Austin — needed, and still needs, help the most. 

Neither NAZDAC nor NANA believes that all North Avenue's problems east of Oak Park Avenue are due to the lack of a streetscape. But we do believe that streetscape completion should be part of an overall solution because it will help establish a new look and feel (if it's well-maintained).

The vacant building to which Mr. Inklebarger refers is not near Harlem. It's east of Oak Park Avenue at 6643 W. North. This building has been vacant for years. We hope the village tears it down as soon as possible. 

NAZDAC and the Active Transportation Alliance are studying the walkability of North Avenue. This will hopefully become part of an overall plan. However, it will not leverage state funding for such a plan. The city of Chicago is applying for Illinois Dept. of Transportation money for this purpose. Alderman Deborah Graham (28th Ward) and Senator Don Harmon (39th District) have been instrumental in identifying and pursuing this funding source. It's my understanding that this IDOT program can cover most of the study but not a plan for each parcel — Chicago and Oak Park would have to fund that. 

Sen. Harmon has also requested that IDOT and the Chicago Department of Transportation complete a study of safety/traffic flow to determine if North Avenue's speed limit should be lowered.

In revitalizing North Avenue, NAZDAC believes some things are best (and most economically) handled all at once. A comprehensive study and streetscape completion fall in this category. We agree with Village President Abu-Taleb and Alderman Graham that other aspects of implementation can be handled in phases. 

On behalf of NANA and NAZDAC, thank you again for your interest in, and continuing coverage of, North Avenue.

Judith Alexander is chair of North Avenue Zoning and Development Advisory Committee (NAZDAC) and co-founder of North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park (NANA-OP).

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